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Iran’s TV channel taken off Arab satellite 11, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Media in the ME.
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(Go to 10:23 for the relevant clip)

Two of the Arab world’s biggest satellite broadcasting companies, Nilesat and Arabsat, have taken the Iranian channel Alaam of the air for breach of contract. Needless to say, no specific, verifiable breach has been mentioned. It doesn’t take much of an imagination or much understanding of the Middle East to believe that this was done for political reasons and that this ‘breach of contract’ business is but the laziest of covers. Hezbollah, for example, Iran’s proxy, have come out and decried this change, citing political pressures.

In numerous fields, Arab Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have, for years now (or for centuries in different ‘formats’), been engaged in what can broadly be described as a cold conflict with Iran/Persia. Occasionally this conflict bubbles to the surface in, say, the form of the Iran-Iraq war or even verbal jostling as to the name of the Gulf separating the Arabian Peninsula from modern-day Iran. Alaam must be seen in this context. As a font of Iranian soft power, broadcasting Iran’s point of view across the Arab world directly into homes.

This kerfuffle is reminiscent of many Arab states’ outrage at Radio Cairo’s pan-Arab exalting, Arab monarchy decrying broadcasts during Nasser’s pomp. These were believed to incite the local populations against their rulers, advocating Nasser’s wholesome, brotherly and lofty pan-Arab ideals against, for example, the morally corrupt, Western supporting, elitism of Saudi Arabia’s monarchical rule.

Al Jazeera’s broadcasts in recent years, often bitingly critical of, well, all Arab regimes at one time or another have enraged Arab leaders. Indeed, so far as I can recall, all Arab states have either sent petitions to Qatar’s Foreign Ministry to demand that they control Al Jazeera or have broken off diplomatic relations with the small, thumb sized Emirate.

(Incidentally, I am sure that there is an interesting article there: comparing Radio Cairo to Al Jazeera…)

Hat tip: A jolly good one from Abstract JK

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Al Qaeda: idea or structured organisation? 11, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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I am usually an ardent fan of Bruce Hoffman, one of the world’s leading terrorism experts. However, I have major disagreements with the latest piece that he has written for the Washington Post. The key issue I have with the piece is the overall tone of the article which fosters the idea of Al Qaeda as some kind of highly structured terrorist organisation with research departments, an R&D section, a hierarchy implementing long-term strategic goals and tentacles stretching around the world . My understanding of Al Qaeda is that it is first and foremost an ideology that various people attach themselves to. For sure, there are people who are putative ‘masterminds’ i.e. people who direct others and offer advice or money for attacks, but I don’t believe that these people are part of some hierarchical organisational structure with brain-storming sessions and proverbial headed notepaper.

Hoffman wrote about five elements of Al Qaeda’s new strategy.

First, al-Qaeda is increasingly focused on overwhelming, distracting and exhausting us. To this end, it seeks to flood our already information-overloaded national intelligence systems with myriad threats and background noise. Al-Qaeda hopes we will be so distracted and consumed by all this data that we will overlook key clues, such as those before Christmas that linked Abdulmutallab to an al-Qaeda airline-bombing plot.

This makes it sound like there has been a decision made ‘on high’ disseminated to underlings to increase chatter and distract the enemy; that an actual communication has gone from the proverbial directors, down through middle management and out to the operatives in the field. What seems to be far more likely to me is that hundreds of radicals/terrorists around the world, independent of  structure or orders or organisation (who may well describe themselves as Al Qaeda in the same way as a football fan from Bangkok who has never been to the UK describes themself as a Manchester United fan) are simply communicating in their own little groups. Why must some Machiavellian, evil organisation be behind this?

Second, in the wake of the global financial crisis, al-Qaeda has stepped up a strategy of economic warfare. “Today, al-Qaeda threatens: “We will bankrupt you.” Over the past year, the group has issued statements, videos, audio messages and letters online trumpeting its actions against Western financial systems, even taking credit for the economic crisis.

Again, this conjures images in my head of a board meeting where the Al Qaeda board of directors sit and have a chat over tea and coffee as to a long-term strategy. “Mmmm….I think we should go for a strategy of economic warfare” says one. Just because one guy – even a bonafide Al Qaeda spokesman [grumble, grumble…] – witters on about some strategic plan to bankrupt ‘us’ doesn’t mean that it is not just a simple by-product of usual terrorist tactics.

Third, al-Qaeda is still trying to create divisions within the global alliance arrayed against it by targeting key coalition partners. Terrorist attacks on mass-transit systems in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 were intended to punish Spain and Britain for participating in the war in Iraq and in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and al-Qaeda continues this approach today. During the past two years, serious terrorist plots orchestrated by al-Qaeda’s allies in Pakistan, meant to punish Spain and the Netherlands for participating in the war on terrorism, were thwarted in Barcelona and Amsterdam.

Any terrorist with half a brain could work this out. This is logic 101. Why – again – does this obvious logic need to have been necessarily sent down from on high?

Fourth, al-Qaeda is aggressively seeking out, destabilizing and exploiting failed states and other areas of lawlessness. While the United States remains preoccupied with trying to secure yesterday’s failed state — Afghanistan — al-Qaeda is busy staking out new terrain. The terrorist network sees failing states as providing opportunities to extend its reach, and it conducts local campaigns of subversion to hasten their decline. Over the past year, it has increased its activities in places such as Pakistan, Algeria, the Sahel, Somalia and, in particular, Yemen.

If you are a terrorist and you want space, time and relative freedom to plan, construct and launch your attacks are you going to do this in Europe or a relatively stable Arab country or a country where there is next to no law and order? The choice is obvious and there does not need – again! – to have been some strategic decision taken on-high to relocate “all our assets” to, for example, Yemen.Hoffman also – unforgivably – describes Major Nidal Hassan’s attack at Ford Hood as part of Al Qaeda’s growing variety of attacks which to me is as egregiously wrong as concluding that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.  He also finishes with a few useless platitudes and truisms.

Al-Qaeda needs to be utterly destroyed. This will be accomplished not just by killing and capturing terrorists — as we must continue to do — but by breaking the cycle of radicalization and recruitment that sustains the movement.

It seems to me that Al Qaeda is attributed most attacks that occur in the Western hemisphere and practically every attack that targets Westerners even when the evidence that Al Qaeda ‘did it’ often stems from no more than the protagonist ‘visiting Yemen’ for a few days/weeks/months.  The threshold for an attack to be deemed to be ‘by Al Qaeda’ is painfully low. We need to resist the urge to pigeon-hole, tabulate and name every threat in a Western-inspired, orthodox typeset but instead adapt our thinking to understand how things actually are rather than how we think they are.

Extra security measures for some nationalities 11, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Saudi Arabia.
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Citizens of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen will face extra security measures when en route to America. This is an understandable knee-jerk reaction. However, it must be remembered that, for example, someone can drive from Damascus to Amman in a couple of hours and thus fly to the US from a country not on the list. Also, having Cuba on the list is an archaic and ridiculous relic of US policy that really must be updated.

A Saudi ‘preacher’ has apparently urged authorities to demand that Saudi citizens be taken off this list and if this is not done, that they impose a travel ban on Saudi citizens on traveling to America. What an idiot. I’m sure that that’ll have US officials quaking in their boots and falling over themselves to appease the Saudis.

US aid to Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan 11, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Central Asia, Iraq, Yemen.
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By 2008, nonmilitary [US] aid to Yemen had dwindled to less than $20 million. Afghanistan is expected to receive $2.7 billion a year in nonmilitary aid, Pakistan $1.5 billion and Iraq $500 million.

The administration doubled Yemen’s economic aid last year, but as Barbara K. Bodine, another former ambassador, pointed out, the amount “works out to $1.60 per Yemeni.”

The NYT.